By Ann Killion, special to Pac-12.com
LONDON - The Women’s Games.
The tag has stuck ever since the Athlete’s Parade in the Opening Ceremonies, when every country that marched had – for the first time – a female representative.
The label applies to Team USA, which – for the first time – has more female athletes in its ranks than male.
And the title certainly applied Thursday night at venerable Wembley Stadium. When the U.S. women’s soccer team took on Japan, England’s national soccer stadium was packed to the rafters with more than 80,000. It was the biggest crowd to ever see a women’s game in Europe. And the highest-attended women’s Olympic match ever.
“The crowd was amazing,” said goalkeeper Hope Solo, who starred at Washington.
The throng witnessed a thrilling game. The U.S. team – which started five players from the Pac-12 – beat Japan, 2-1. Solo made huge saves down the stretch to secure the win and Cal’s Alex Morgan set up the first U.S. goal with a pass to Carli Lloyd, who headed the ball in.
Women’s football has had a quick evolution in the past three weeks. It was ignored in the Olympic run-up, mocked and then belittled – with BBC reporters trying to shame young boys by asking them, “you’re a boy attending a women’s football game – how do you feel about that?”
But then Team Great Britain won a few matches, and Brits started to beat their chest in pride. And wonder if coach Hope Powell could coach a man’s team – a backwards compliment. And the interest grew, and the mocking stopped.
And Thursday night the unthinkable happened: Wembley Stadium, home of England’s national team, was packed for women’s football. It’s been like a mini-Title IX evolution for the women’s game in England.
That evolution has already happened in the U.S. The Pac-12 – a long-time leader in women’s sports - has made a huge contribution to both Team USA’s medal effort and the perception that these are the Women’s Games. Coming into Thursday, 21 female Pac-12 athletes are taking home 26 medals (compared to 19 for the men), including 13 gold.
On Thursday, both the women’s soccer team and the women’s water polo team – teams laden with Pac-12 athletes – won gold medals. Incoming Stanford freshman Maggie Steffens was the star of the tournament for the water polo team, scoring 21 goals. And Solo and Morgan, and the other Pac-12 players, helped the U.S. soccer team win its third-straight gold.
The Women’s Games. Or, if you prefer, the Pac-12 Games.